Special Olympics: Game Rules & Events


Information on the world special olympics games and sports for persons with a disability.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Special Olympics

The Special Olympics are the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world including local, national and regional competitions, adding up to more than 70,000 events a year.

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Special Olympics is a global nonprofit organization serving the nearly 200 million people with intellectual disabilities, with a presence in nearly 200 countries worldwide. Among their other activities, Special Olympics conducts the Special Olympics World Games every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games.

More than 2.5 million athletes of all ages are involved in Special Olympics sports training and competition in more than 180 countries.

The organization offers year-round training and competition in 30 Olympic-type summer and winter sports.

Special Olympics often is the only place where they have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves. There are more than 72 Programs in Special Olympics North America. Special Olympics North America has 544,581 athletes participating in all 30 sports offered by Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, is composed of passionate, committed individuals from every walk of life, who recognize the value and unique gifts of people with intellectual disabilities, who together, share the common belief of dignity, equality and opportunity for all people.

The first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago in 1968.

Anne McGlone Burke, a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District, began with the idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs. Burke then approached Eunice Kennedy Shriver, head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, to fund the event. Shriver encouraged Burke to expand on the idea and the JPK Foundation provided a grant of $25,000. More than 1,000 athletes from across the United States and Canada participated.

The first International Special Olympics Winter Games were held in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA. In 1988, the Special Olympics was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Special Olympic Games - Dates

International Board members include President of Iceland Olafur Grimmson; Olympic Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci; pop singer and actress Vanessa Williams; Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent; and First Lady of Panama Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos.

Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB) is the major provider of sporting opportunities for people with a learning disability and provides equality of opportunity for all athletes regardless of ability or degree of disability.

Quick Facts: Special Olympics Sports

Special Olympics has more than 32 Olympic-type individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. A few are listed below:

Special Olympics Sports List
Alpine Skiing
Athletics (Track and Field)
Cross-Country Skiing
Equestrian Sports
Figure Skating
Floor Hockey
Football (Soccer)
Power lifting
Riding Horses
Short-track Speed skating
Table Tennis

Latest Special Olympics Publications

Inclusive Sports and Unified Teams can promote the human rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Special Olympics Team USA announces 491 member delegation to represent US at 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, July 25 to Aug 2, 2015, Los Angeles, California.

Special Olympics outlines results of successful two-year old Healthy Communities initiative and announces it will expand the program from 14 to 100 sites by 2025.

Trip to New Mexico to attend wedding results in chance meeting of Special Olympians.

2014 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games will bring athletes with an intellectual disability volunteer coaches and officials to Vancouver to compete at the University of British Columbia.

Launch of a new cause to support the organization and its mission to provide sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Phonak US will donate hearing aids to be distributed during free hearing screenings provided at Special Olympics events.

Special Olympics Georgia received a $80,000 grant from The UPS Foundation the charitable arm of UPS.

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